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August 28, 2017 - No Comments!

SBC August Newsletter – Meet Gayle Karen Young, Culture Builder & Catalyst

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Today leadership is about visibility and being authentic. Earlier this year, I attended a session with my favorite living poet, David Whyte, who inspires us to be vulnerable in being ourselves. I have followed his writing and enjoyed his workshops for many years. This session included a most intriguing organizational expert, Gayle Karen Young, who I was totally taken by. I found her perspective on leaders finding their way in this messy organizational life quite mind shifting.

Gayle brings wisdom and warmth to the conversation about how we develop as leaders within complex and changing systems.  She calls herself a “rogue provocateur.” Join me in our fascinating conversation about how we thrive in this unpredictable place called leadership.

Sherry Benjamins: Tell us about your perspective on leadership today.

Gayle Young: Its been fascinating to watch my own thoughts on leadership and culture evolve as I’ve moved from being an external consultant to taking on a role as Chief Talent and Culture Officer (essentially the CHRO) at the Wikimedia Foundation, and then going out on my own again.

For background, the Wikimedia Foundation is a fascinating organization for being one of the top five visited websites in the world. It’s the only top 50 website that is a non-profit. The actual organizational size is small, but a huge number of volunteers help run it and essentially create the product. Each language has their own Wikipedia and governing bodies. The volunteer base influences a lot of the dynamics. We worked in more of a network or influence-based structure.

Any dynamic that impacts the geopolitical news landscape, shows up on Wikipedia. Whether it was a downed flight in Ukraine or conflicts in South America, you can see ideological differences pop up across different wikis. It taught me a lot about complexity, permeability, culture, and of course, the day-to-day of business management like performance, quarterly goals, large implementations, etc.. I grew to have an appreciation for the intersection of complexity and organizational development and culture.

Being a leader in these contexts for me means having a capacity to work both the mythic and the mundane. It requires working on the mission, the values, the intangibles, and the day-to-day experiences that become tangible components that nudge a complex system in a particular way, like the way that decisions are made or that meetings are run. I say “nudge” because I believe that we don’t get to manage culture. We do small things that ripple through a system in profound ways.

SB: You’re now collaborating with fascinating leaders and companies.  What made you decide to go out on your own? 

GY: I was at the Wikimedia Foundation for four years and I loved it. It was a great place to practice leadership and my own mission. I was working with one of the executive directors, Sue Gardner, who I would follow anywhere. There was a leadership transition where the organization didn’t need me in the same way and I had personal needs that led me to take a year off. At that time, I was at a retreat at the Burren Executive Leadership Program, which aimed to foster a leader’s action by way of reflection. That’s when I first met David Whyte, who was an artist in residence. It changed the course of my life.

SB: Tell us about what you do to help a leader with running their company? 

GY: I do have one-on-one coaching with clients where we reflect on their own practices of leadership. I also work with executive teams. Sometimes I go in and support a new team as it’s coming together. We explore how do they lead together? What does collective leadership look like? A team that’s high-performing doesn’t just do their own thing and then come together. They practice what they want to do.

I also have my passion projects. I work with an organization called Hidden Leaf that offers grants for personal development for social justice leaders, or I work with organizations like Uncharted, that supports social entrepreneurs.

SB: What would you say to a CHRO today about their leaders and the organization  of the future? 

GY:  I think it starts with understanding the evolving nature of the workforce and it’s an interesting one. There’s an upsurge of people looking for meaning. A lot of Millennials tend to be part of the compulsive-awesome generation. In terms of designing work and roles, people are asking, “what is their evolving portfolio of their skill set?”

An organization’s culture is a nested set of environments. If you’re going to understand the culture of Wikimedia, for example, you have to understand the values of the Enlightenment and the spirit of the Gutenberg Press, as well as seeing that it is rooted in the ethos of the free knowledge movement and in the open nature of the internet itself. Those streams of values, norms, and beliefs are part of the operating ecosystem. A CHRO can understand and track the streams that are influencing an organization’s culture.

SB: How do we start to see the often subtle influences at play when understanding what influences us? 

GY: If you’re going to try to understand yourself, try to understand the contexts you emerge from as a beginning. I’m an immigrant with a Chinese family, raised in California.  Each of these things gives a window into what makes me up. In that way Toms Shoes would be influenced by philanthropy, the shoe industry, manufacturing, and its location in Silicon Beach. It’s like mapping out what all the elements are of being you, but at an organizational level.

SB: As we reflect on who we want to be as leaders, are you seeing more partnership between CEO’s and HR?

GY: If you're CEO doesn’t get you and has a traditional view of HR, in other words, a compliant-based version of HR instead of a development-based version, that makes for a very difficult relationship and forward thinking partnership. Particularly if the CEO doesn’t appreciate and value and support that function, it is almost a non-starter.

SB: I attended the workshop that you and David did together and I’ve followed David’s work for over 20 years.  He facilitates new conversations that guide  personal development. . Do you see executives investing in this way?   

GY: If you want people to follow you with a kind of whole-hearted engagement, then personal development and professional development are inextricable. One metaphor is the difference between a hollow core and a robust one, and that IS visible in the world whether you know it or not. As a leader, by the very of nature of leadersihp, you must have a willingness to really be seen. What you’re seen as standing for, since every movement you make is watched and noted on, as an active, conscious choice, makes all the difference in the world. That’s where the self-knowledge comes in. With the work David does, he helps get us to be grounded in our own robust vulernability. But we have our own work to do to understand how we want to be seen in the world, what we stand for, and what we live out. It’s this notion of when you’re unaware of what you put into the world, Jung said, “that which remains in the unconscious comes back to us as fate.” Unless you work with your own interior landscape, then you don’t have a hope of influencing what it is that you invite.

In closing...We are in a time when doing the “internal work” of a leader is seen as high value, yet many find it challenging to accomplish. Gayle’s refreshing and honest perspective encourages us all to dive in to move forward. Clearly, the benefits of finding a friend or coach to help you in your leadership journey are invaluable.

February 20, 2016 - No Comments!

Brand is the “Why” of your Business – Candidates Want to Know

This past week we hosted a Great Starts Breakfast, SBCo's learning forum in LA on the topic of "Why Brand Matters."  Our guests were heads of HR, Talent Management leaders and those managing the Talent Acquisition function.  It was a lively discussion about branding, which is one of the most misunderstood concepts in business. What does it mean to create a compelling brand message that lines up with your culture?  Our experience is that messages and experiences on the inside don't always connect to those on the outside for your customers.  We are far better at capturing the hearts and minds of our customers and still struggle with that experience for candidates.

What we are seeing now is the intersection of HR and Marketing.   Here are some definitions from our guest speaker, Krysta Masciale (owner and founder of Big Deal Branding in Los Angeles):

  • Marketing is anyone in the organization who is responsible for creating, maintaining and communicating the brand's message internally and externally.
  • HR is anyone in the organization responsible for attracting, selecting and retaining top talent to carry out the brand promise.Sherryand krysta

We have not seen enough collaboration in these two domains.  That is changing.  There is a need to holistically look at strategy for finding those scarce high performing talents.  Many companies have resorted to hiring a search firm to tackle this work (something that SBCo enjoys doing and has excelled in) AND there must be an expanded focus in this work that ensures greater probability of long term success and candidate fit.

In our session, we explored the realities and misconceptions of “Brand”.  Krysta Masciale reminds us that brand isn’t solely a fancy logo or high tech website. Brand is the “Why” of your business. Why do you exist? Why should customers choose you over a competitor? Why should talent come work for you?

To get to the “Why” piece, you must first define these five things:

1. Values- Identify 4-5. Define meaning for your organization. Claim these values in your daily work.

2. Strengths- Find the sweet spot of what you are good at and acknowledge what your organization is not good at.

3. Goals- Establish a yearly theme. Set quarterly goals. Assess goals and theme regularly.

4. Messages- Clarity and commitment is key here - take the step to clarify two words that describe your organization and commit to those words/message.

5. Ideal Clients- Identify this group so that you can speak to the wants and needs of this group.

When these five steps are done right, profits rise and employees see the "why" to stay, production increases and candidates learn more about new opportunities. These steps can easily be utilized by a Marketer creating the company story or the Recruiter and his or her Marketing/Communications partner to develop the talent story.

In 2016 our firm is committed to expanding this work with our clients in order to create a talent brand and message that ensures ideal candidates see "their wants" in the hiring company.  If they don't see themselves in this picture, then it is probably not for them.  Candidates also want to experience interviews and realistic job previews that reflect the organization and leader values.  Here at SBCo we already focus on that when crafting a "marketing specification"  that is entirely beyond the traditional job description.  Clients value the time and effort we place on getting the story right and asking questions that uncover the "DNA" and culture of a firm as well as the opportunity to contribute in cool ways.  (p.s. we love using micro sites, podcasts and other non-traditional ways to relay the story).

Get started on the "why."  It will make a big difference.  If you need help along the way and are committed to raising the stakes in competing for talent; call us here at S. Benjamins & Company and we will bring our brand strategist and amazing search team into a new conversation.  Let me know your thoughts at Sherry@sbcompany.net and Krysta Masciale at www.bigdealbranding.com

 

August 28, 2015 - No Comments!

SBCo August Newsletter – Two Women Entrepreneurs: Talent Matters in Food & Film

This month we decided to highlight the creativity, impact and courage of two women entrepreneurs who are successfully using their strengths and passion to share their love of food and film.  Natasha Feldman and Julianna Strickland started their own company, Cinema & Spice, over five years ago and have been Best Friends, Producers, Directors, Writers, Hosts, and Goofballs ever since.

Cinema & Spice Productions makes web-based cooking shows. Natasha and Julianna have worked with a variety of companies including C&S tvYahoo, Kraft, Le Creuset, Keds, Warner Brothers, Lifetime, and KitchenAid to develop and create youthful and creative shows.

Their Webby Nominated Cooking Show, Cinema & Spice (C&S), has been featured in The LA Times,  Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Union Tribune, and on The Steve Harvey Show. Each episode  of C&S  is inspired by a movie or television show and features original recipes, useful kitchen tips, and ideas for  entertaining.

Sherry Benjamins (SB): It’s so great to chat with you Julianna and Natasha! Tell us how you started such an imaginative company?

Natasha Feldman (NF): I had just graduated from LMU and decided that I wanted to go to culinary school. Julianna had just graduated from USC with a film degree and we were both working in the same restaurant. At the time that I met Julianna I needed a roommate and she was looking to move out of her apartment, so we became roommates, co-workers, and friends.

We experimented in the kitchen and filmed these mini-episodes of us cooking. The first episode was horrible but we kept playing with it in the editing bay to see if we could create some structure and purpose. At first we thought just our friends and family would watch, but soon we were gaining a following.

Long story short, we started getting sponsors for our episodes and we eventually connected with Yahoo! and grew our business from there.

SB: What role do each of you play in the organization? Do you have a team to help you run this company?

Julianna Strickland (JS): Someday we may be lucky enough to have a full support staff, but for now it’s just the two of us and our freelance team. Natasha is the one who develops recipes, does the food styling and writes. I am all the things under the surface that allow our business to run.

For instance, I do all of the back-end production, accounting, hire the film crew and edit all copy.  And we like to do the creative brainstorming for each episode together. We are strategic about getting the best talent available to help us in areas where additional expertise is needed.

SB: Cinema & Spice does their own videos as well as videos for brands. Do brands approach you and just ask for a video?

NF: Yes, brands reach out to a platform, such as Yahoo!, AOL or a YouTube company, looking for content and we get the requests through the larger companies, usually.  Sometimes the request is for general concepts to see if they feel it fits in with their current landscape and needs, and other times it’s for full-blown productions. We have been fortunate to work with brands like Kraft, Le Creuset, Keds and KitchenAid.

SB: It is great to hear that you are able to inject some of your creativity into these very large organizations. How can corporations use a similar level of creativity (besides hiring you!)?

NF: Large companies can’t be afraid of the new; it’s no mystery that the world as we know it is changing. That doesn’t mean that companies should make rash decisions to completely alter their brand. Organizations are quick to “blow up” a process or initiative, but sometimes you just need to approach it in a new way.

We find companies often spend egregious amounts of money to work with big production houses and end up with a product that looks like everyone else and doesn’t break the mold. If you don’t hire someone that’s a little risky and don’t make a product that is a little risky, you won’t get the impactful result you were looking for.

SB: There is a lot of change happening right now as the millennial generation enters the workforce. You are both Millennials… any advice for organizations on how to “handle” your generation?

NF: It is really important to embrace the strengths of others and use their talent and perspectives to compliment or break out into something new. We see and honor the power of collaboration. It is pretty easy for Millennials to create a website and launch a company, but there is so much power in the wisdom and expertise of older generations. Technology changes, but the core needs and wants of people don’t change much. Millennials are a valuable asset to fill in the gap between the new technology and the established business.

JS: We are constantly at the crossroad between old and new. The tech space is all about the newest thing, but in the food world, established and authentic brands actually have respect from the consumer. There’s a similar crossroads within organizations between the newest thing (Millennials) and the established/respected business.

SB: You launched your own business in an industry that has a lot of big players. What drove you to take this step?

NF: I will say we were a little naïve to an extent because we had a dream and we decided to go for it. It certainly hasn’t been without consequence, but if you were to ask if we would do it over again, I think we would both certainly say yes.

SB: I am hearing more often these days from corporate professionals who say, “I am ready for a change because my work isn’t exciting or fun anymore. I need to find my purpose again.”

JS: If you choose something you love to do, you will always find the joy and purpose in it. We are lucky to be able to enjoy our work through creating our own episodes, making branded content for others, and volunteering to teach the next generation how to cook, both through our shows and at local food banks and low income housing around LA.

SB: What does 2016 look like for Cinema & Spice?

NF: In 2016 we want to continue to branch out with our production company. We meet so many brilliant people inside organizations as well as independent talent (comedians, actors, bloggers, etc.) that we want to partner with to produce their content. Watch for new episodes and productions that we hope inspire you to incorporate healthy eating into your lifestyle.

Our Thoughts…

Seek out talent the way Julianna and Natasha do for their business.  Imagine having the creativity, passion and trust in your workers so that they bring their best to your culture every day.  They get to work on something that did not exist yesterday. This dynamic duo is crafting a new on-line and social presence in a changing world.

They think creatively about how work gets done. This supports predictions that new models of work, worker and workplace have arrived.  Natasha and Julianna are just one example of young leaders who demonstrate that we have left behind “business as usual.”  Tap into your employee’s imagination and you may be thoroughly surprised what can be accomplished!

You can learn more about Cinema & Spice on their website, YouTube channel, or Instagram!

June 16, 2014 - No Comments!

Investing in Employees: A New Level of Brand Awareness and Employee Loyalty

You may have picked up your newspaper or checked your tablet today and read about Starbucks offering college classes to over 130,000 employees. It got us thinking, how many organizations are investing in their employees’ education outside of the internal training?

The American Council of Education approximates that roughly 20 percent of graduate students and 6 percent of undergraduates receive some financial assistance from their employers to attend school. As many as a third of undergraduates in fields like business and engineering receive tuition assistance from their employers. In fact, tuition assistance is the most common source of financial aid for college students, and on average it covers about one-third of the average annual cost paid by post-secondary students. Big name companies like Apple, Chevron, FedEx, Gap, Raytheon, and U.S. Airways (to name a few) offer some level of financial assistance to employees looking to further their education.

A 2002 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management of 510 employers found 79 percent offering educational assistance of various kinds. While some employers require that employees agree to stay with the company for a certain period of time post-graduation to “pay their dues” others see this cost as an investment in their talent and their brand. The CEO and Chairman of Starbucks was quoted by the NY Times as stating that even if employees left soon after receiving their education, Starbucks’ investment in the employee “would be accreted to our brand, our reputation and our business…I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people.”

Is there a shift happening in the way employers invest in employees? We think there might be. Organizations are moving away from pension plans and tenures and moving toward investing in early to mid-career employees who show a tenacity for productivity and an ambition to move up the ladder.tuiton

 

References: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/16/us/starbucks-to-provide-free-college-education-to-thousands-of-workers.html?_r=0

http://www.nber.org/digest/feb03/w9225.html

http://college.lovetoknow.com/Companies_That_Help_Employees_Pay_for_College